Following the November election, the Whispering Palms Community Services District (CSD) had its first full board since 2016. At the CSD’s Dec. 11 meeting, new member Al Panton and re-elected member Bill Haynor joined the board, which manages landscaping and sewer service for more than 1,440 homes in the Rancho Santa Fe district.
Last week the board was finally able to elect a president—the 2-2 split had prevented them from doing so and General Manager Chuck Duffy had been leading the group for the last two years. With Kathy McHenry absent, Haynor was elected president in a 3-1 vote with Byron Hanchett voting in opposition. Doug Manatt was elected vice president in a 4-0 vote.
At the meeting the board approved replacing the “worn-down” railroad ties on Via Valle Verde along the Morgan Run Golf Course with turf and new concrete, as well as selected a landscape architect to develop a landscaping improvement plan for the area in front of the Pacifica building at the intersection of Cancha De Golf and Via de la Valle. In a 3-1 vote with Hanchett opposed, the board agreed to utilize the services of David Reed, the landscape architect responsible for the landscaping in front of the Palma de la Reina commercial development.
The CSD board has had a vacancy since 2016, when three members resigned from the board shortly before that year’s general election. Controversy erupted in the community after the board approved a plan to remove the 54 queen palm trees at the community’s entrance as they were believed to be aging and diseased, posing a safety risk. The plan to refresh the landscaping at the time included replacing the palms with smaller king palm trees, peppermint willow trees and low shrubs. After community opposition, the project never went out to bid and plans were scraped after the board members resigned.
The continuing discussion on what to do with the palms in the median was on the agenda on Dec. 11.
“We need to have a plan in place to make sure we have healthy trees,” said Manatt, urging the board to hire a certified arborist to review the trees. “It’s been a long time and I think someone should look at them right away.”
The last report on the trees was done in 2016.
Manatt proposed that the CSD hire Mark Robinson, of MTR Horticulture, whom he said provided the most comprehensive report (the report was done in January 2014). While two other arborists’ reports had determined that the trees planted in 1964 were diseased, Robinson examined and “sounded” each tree up and down the trunks using a boom truck and found that the “heritage trees” had decades to grow.
Hanchett was opposed to bringing on Robinson, instead encouraging that the board get estimates from other arborists before making a decision.
“Three certified arborists told three different stories,” Hanchett said, noting that it would not solve the CSD’s liability issue if they hire someone who just says all of the trees are fine. “I think we need somebody new and independent…Three board members resigned over the personal liability issue and if this is not resolved satisfactorily, I will probably do the same. I don’t think we should expose ratepayers and ourselves to that kind of liability.”
In supporting Manatt’s proposal, Haynor said he agreed with the sense of urgency to evaluate the trees as soon as possible. The board voted 3-1 in favor of MTR Horticulture reviewing the health and integrity of the palms, with Hanchett opposed.
As the board continues to work on landscaping issues, Manatt said he would like to get more feedback from residents. Only one person was in attendance at the meeting, representing Palma de la Reina. Manatt proposed doing community walk-throughs once a month to allow people to learn about what they are discussing landscaping-wise.
“I am concerned about community engagement. The meetings got everyone excited about two years ago but there’s not a lot of engagement now.” Manatt said. “A lot of what we do operates in a vacuum...unless people are upset we don’t hear anything.”
Agendas and information on the CSD can be found at wpcsd.net. The board meets the second Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m. at the Morgan Run Golf Course clubhouse.